Medal of Honor
If it moves, kill it. That's the briefing for the latest demo of EA's shiny and modern Medal of Honor revamp, and truer words have rarely been spoken. Our player character certainly takes them to heart; he spends the next fifteen minutes lugging around a chunky, weighty-looking machine gun and viciously perforating everyone he comes across.
This is the self-titled 'sledgehammer' component to Medal of Honor, a rock-em sock-em shower of bullets and explosions pitched as the intentional antithesis to the beard-sporting sneaky bits from the 'scalpel' Tier One operatives - which I previewed a couple of months ago.
The killing spree seems somewhat at odds with the general tone of the game, though, with the game's accompanying trailer featuring a narrator's heartfelt recital of a letter to his wife and kid. Keep up with the homework, I love you, I'll be home soon etc. Then it's all bam-bam-boom as an American Chinook is on the receiving end of a rocket and explodes all over the place. There's no time for romanticising (read: sending sissy messages) anymore. This is war.
War, in this instance, opens in the middle of a campaign to take out a machine gun emplacement pinning down American forces in the rough terrain of Afghanistan's Shah-i-Kot Valley. Two of the redshirts in your squad are already dead as they weren't nearly important enough to have recharging health and unlimited respawns. You, on the other hand, are an unstoppable killing machine.
The valleys of Afghanistan are understandably hostile environments; scorching sunlight ensures the land is dry and barren. It looks grim, but war is supposed to be pretty grim. I think, anyway. Like most people, I have no idea what an actual war looks or sounds like, but in the deepest annals of my imagination I would imagine this is it. Sort of.
At one point your squad comes across some high ground, giving you the option to look across at Afghanistan's rolling wilderness and beautiful landscape. EA deserve credit for their considerable effort in rendering the environment, although there's something quite eerie about such a detailed representation of a current conflict.
Still - back to the killing. The shooting is a bit action hero, but a more realistic approach of lying terrified in the grass until you get shot from miles away would be either a pretty duff game, real war or the excellent ArmA II - though the last two are fairly interchangeable. Still, the weapons seem suitably weighty and the bullets suitably dangerous, with slick and responsive aiming making the game handle like Call of Duty and not Killzone 2.
Despite the game's attempt at a realistic and gritty tone, your enemies also drop to the ground like typical FPS meat puppets: killing shots turning them into quintessential videogame ragdolls.
On the other hand you've got your squad of trusty, all-American allies. There is a friendly amount of banter - they use words like "woah" and "awesome", so you know they're definitely from the States - and they trundle around with a believable urgency. They're not too shabby in a firefight, either.
The level on show is very nicely presented but consists of fairly standard stuff, like kicking down doors, flushing packs of baddies out of cover and sorting out rapscallions attacking you with rocket launchers. We've seen it all before, but I have a certain amount of respect for a game that doesn't feel a constant need to drown its players in constant spectacle and bravado.
But there's a palatable sense that EA are keeping the single-player campaign's biggest tricks firmly out of sight before the game's release. Medal of Honor alludes to drama and tension but doesn't really display it, instead showing a functional but slightly unexciting filler level that ticks all the boxes but doesn't do enough to stand head and shoulders above the considerable amount of competition. There's definitely some more to be had, I reckon.
Still, there are certainly a few show-stopping moments shuffled into the current pack. One of your allies kicks a corpse off a cliff, for instance, which looks fancy and also wholly implausible. The piece de resistance, however, is experiencing an allied airstrike up close and personal. The ensuing carnage couldn't be further away from a typical videogame explosion, with the devastating ordinance covering the environment in thick dust with visible burning embers wafting through the air. It's a beautiful and understated moment.
There's also a very flashy finale. Your squad closes in on a pack of buildings that aren't completely dilapidated, which should be a sign that something dodgy is going on. As your team prepares to breach and enter the sound of a mobile phone can be heard. The realisation comes much too late.
The IED explodes and the screen fades to black and the Medal of Honor logo. Despite all the bravado, gun toting and machismo over the last few minutes I'm not entirely convinced the team have survived the blast. This is war, and sometimes even recharging health isn't enough.